Is there such a thing as a visual cliché?
Both are poetry collections. One is ‘a study in the nature of reality, selfhood, and the different levels of consciousness we inhabit’; the other is much more concerned with ‘ideas of the waking world, and the world as it is imagined or dreamt’. Ahem.
I don’t suppose this particular coincidence says an awful lot, really: a misty, light-flecked, snowbound scene, evocative of Narnia and Manhattan parks and lonely childhoods, sells poetry. I wish I didn’t find it symptomatic of the slushy state of the poetry marketplace in general. As Peter Hughes puts it, rather majestically: “Hundreds of books and magazines continue to print thousands of poems in which a person wearing sensible shoes modestly observes how some rhubarb reminds them of their dad”.
Every gushing review I read of a new collection of ‘crystalline poems remarkable for their precision and focus’ (for instance) makes me want to torture a fairy. If you do by any chance stumble across a bad review, be sure to ignore it and if possible buy the collection in question. Normally, it’s just a bit different; perhaps it doesn’t include the word ‘heft’, or any reference to dusk, foxes, or childhood. Perhaps some poems in it avoid lapsing into trite epiphany – what’s known as the Damascus Syndrome, a common affliction. Perhaps the poet is under 30 and not working in academia and doesn’t like the Goldberg Variations and certainly hasn’t written a ‘ecstatic and utterly crystalline’ poetic sequence about them.
The poetry I read is often dull, and the reviews altogether deadening. It’s all a matter of taste, I suppose, and mine could be off – I do after all have a thing for McNuggets. I wish, though, more of what I read were like Roy Fisher’s long poem ‘Furnace’, which I’m reading at the moment. I intend to write more fully about it down the line, but here’s a snippet of this subtly refracted lyric:
approaches my passive taking-in,
then surrounds me and goes by
will have itself understood only
phase upon phase
by separate involuntary
strokes of the mind, dark
swings of a fan-blade
that keeps a time of its own
made up from the long
of the stages of the street,
each bred off the last as if by
O! Such an irresistible, crystalline intelligence.